Touch screen technology may be of some benefit to toddlers’ development, new research has suggested.

The research, conducted from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Cork University Hospital, found that the interactivity of smartphones and iPads is similar to that of more traditional play.

Swiping, unlocking and actively using apps and features has a different effect on the brain than when toddlers passively watch a television programme or video.

Active play

The study of 82 children aged between one and three years found that by the age of two 30 per cent of children were able to actively unlock and search for touch screen features on a device.

Researcher Dr Deirdre Murray commented: “Touch-screen platforms, when used to their strengths, present many features which differentiate them from other forms of media and offer the potential for more positive effects.”

Unregulated exposure

However, the authors also offered a word of caution: caution: “Many applications designed for infants and toddlers already exist, but there is no regulation of their quality, educational value or even safety.

“Some of the issues that arise with passive watching of television still apply: exposure to unsuitable material and visually fast-paced content, and displacement of other developmentally important activities.”

In a statement, Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commented that excessive time spent in front of any screen can promote obesity and interfere with children’s sleep patterns, but admitted that we do not yet know the full effect of these new devices.

“Our children are digital natives in a way no previous generation has been before,” he said. “Therefore more research is needed on the benefits and harms of different types of screen use. Only then can we really be sure what screen time recommendations we should put in place for young children.”

The research was published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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